Why are anti-vaccine messages so persuasive? A content analysis of anti-vaccine websites to inform the development of vaccine promotion strategies
Objective: We sought to understand the tactics anti-vaccine advocates use to persuade parents against vaccination.
Methods: We conducted a content analysis of 480 anti-vaccine websites. Four coders coded 480 websites for: content of the vaccine misinformation presented, source of the vaccine misinformation and the types of persuasive tactics used. We also coded for behaviors and values co-promoted by the websites that could help vaccine promotion efforts develop better targeted materials.
Results: Anti-vaccine websites contained a considerable amount of misinformation; primarily that vaccines were dangerous (65.6%), cause autism (62.2%) and “brain injury” (41.1%). Websites used both scientific evidence (64.7%) and anecdotes (30.0%) to support these claims. Values such as choice (41.0%), freedom (20.5%) and individuality (17.4%) were used. Commonly co-promoted behaviors included the use of alternative medicine (18.8%) and homeopathy (10.2%), and eating a healthy (18.5%) or organic (5.2%) diet. Cleanisng one’s body of toxins (7.1%), breastfeeding (5.5%) and religiosity were also co-promoted (6.8%).
Conclusions: Anti-vaccine messages effective tactics to persuade parents against vaccination, including using both credible (scientific) and relatable (parents’ anecdotes) sources, and appealing to parents’ values and lifestyles. Clinicians and practitioners can leverage these tactics to promote vaccinations.
Learning Areas:Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related education
Social and behavioral sciences
Identify persuasive tactics commonly used to promote anti-vaccine attitudes and beliefs. Explain how these tactics can be used to persuade parents in favor of vaccination. Describe at least two ways this study’s findings can be translated into vaccine promotion messages.
Keyword(s): Immunizations, Child Health Promotion
Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have received extensive training in persuasive health communication. I conceptualized this study and led the research activities, analysis and interpretation and write up of the results.
Any relevant financial relationships? No
I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.